by Jonah Begone
This was an article I wrote in June, 1991 when I served as the Imperious Adjutant of my reenacting unit - a thankless task which involved registering people for events, getting the newsletter out with the directions to the site (which never got read and which resulted in eleventh-hour phone calls for instructions I had mailed out two weeks earlier), etc. I'm sure all you unit adjutants out there know exactly what I mean. The job also involved unit policy, hence this little write-up. - Jonah
One of the not-specifically-spelled-out-in-the-Sacred-Bylaws-but-nonetheless-important duties of the Imperious Adjutant is to scan current reenacting literature and report important trends to you, the Gentle Reader. This can be a fatiguing task, I assure you. Not only can most reenactors not put an understandable sentence together, but many of them are world-class flakes to boot! The net result of a few hours of reading this stuff is to want to run out, sell your uniform and gear and invest in model trains, golf or something normal! But I do this so you won't have to...
One trend - raging furor, actually - concerns the subject of Women In The Ranks. Letters aplenty have appeared in the reenactment media invoking "the Constitution that our forbears fought to protect, etc.," authenticity, fair play, equal rights, the Equal Rights Amendment and practically anything else to assist in the process of making reenacting Politically Correct. Let me assure you, our valued stockholders, that no such thing is likely to happen in the august ranks of our unit (at least during my watch). Sacred Bylaws Article II Section 1 states that "Members must be males of at least 18 years of age and shall function as infantrymen." Unless somebody has a absolutely convoluted command of the English language combined with some terribly cunning legal expertise, it should be apparent that this means No Female Musketmen.
Before we go further on this subject, however, perhaps we should discuss terminology. My dictionary defines "transvestite" as "a person, esp. a male, who dresses in the clothing of the opposite sex for psychological reasons." Reenactors who do this claim they do it for historical reasons (sure they do), so I cannot properly call these people "transvestites" (whereas the originals were). I propose the term "Reenactor cross-dressers" instead. Sounds more, well, socially acceptable. (In spite of the fact that the practice blows the "Reenacting is a wholesome family hobby!" rationale right out of the water... "Daddy, why is that woman dressed as a man?")
I will be the first to admit that reenacting is at heart a silly pastime. Most guys running around playing weekend war in Peter Pan companies justify and elevate it with an occasional pompous reference to "those who fought and died for their beliefs, their colors, etc.," but what we're really doing is replicating the dirt clod vacant lot battles of our youth. (Now there's an idea - replace black powder with dirt clods! Public: "How do you know when to take a hit?" Reenactor: "Well, dirt gets in my eyes and I feel a swelling lump on my forehead...") But girls weren't tolerated in any of the vacant lots I played in back then and shouldn't be now!
Well, there were exceptions. One childhood acquaintance of mine happened to be a girl appropriately named Diane Manley. Diane was tough. Diane was mean. Diane was athletic. Diane kicked my best friends's injured leg - hard - when he ill-advisedly shot her in the butt with an unbent paper clip fired from a rubber band (our standard classroom artillery). Was Diane seeking to be liked or seeking respect? The answer to that became obvious as I viewed my friend clutching his leg in agony... Okay, so as in Aretha's song how do female reenactors gain R-E-S-P-E-C-T? My suggestion is to not make us wool suiters appear any more foolish than we already appear and to avoid showing up in the ranks and challenging the public to spot the "six foot rule" violator! (For those of you who don't know, the six foot rule is: "Those who don`t know I'm a female at six feet wouldn't be able to tell." Yeah, right.)
Personally I think that along with the reenacting drill cliche "The sooner you get this right the sooner you'll be able to get back to camp," the six foot rule is the biggest bunch of baloney in reenacting. I haven't seen a female pull it off yet; they all kind of stand out like sore thumbs. I can anticipate the lame response to this argument, however - the Reenactment Uncertainty Principle: "How would you know you've spotted all the reenacting cross-dressers if they were good enough to escape notice?"
An interesting historical note: out of about 3 million Union and Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War, about 400 (or .013%) of these are estimated to be women. (This "400" figure is an unexamined assertion I have seen. I think it's high, but just for argument's sake let's accept it for now.) Assuming 15,000 CW reenactors currently - a stretch! - proportionally we may safely allow 2 cross-dressers. (The Rebs can have 'em.)
In the surreal world of reenacting, however, numbers don't matter. Now that we've formally acknowledged this minority the next step is a transvestite memorial at Antietam, wreath-laying and annual dedications, speeches, etc. I know at least one reenactor who would attend...
I write all this realizing, of course, that this "narrow-minded" militant Men's Club we call reenacting is now another Lost Cause. Its high-water mark was just before the now famous Lauren "Larry" Cook filed suit against the National Park Service, a government agency run by government politicians. Who's going to win the lawsuit? Speaking quantitatively about voters, there are a lot more women than there are reenactors - see if you can determine the outcome!
A little paranoia may be justified here: what happens when the government comes banging on our door demanding Reenacting Political Correctness? Well, after we thank Lauren "Larry" Cook and her unit for their efforts in our behalf (she belongs to the 21st Georgia, who also gave to reenacting a guy named "Skins" who enjoys throwing road kill around), we disband, become cross-dressers ourselves and get in sync with the wave of current reenacting practice and form the Boy George Company of the Regimental Relief Society! The writing is on the wall for all of us to see: the May '91 issue of the Camp Chase Gazette is devoted to coverage of the "Land Between the Lakes" tactical in Kentucky, where there were 39 Federals to Rally Round the Flag Sunday morning. In the same issue is a report of a Ladies Seminar which attracted 64 participants (and I'd be willing to bet that the refreshments were better there, too!). The only question left is how do I go about getting Mrs. Begone to let out her corset in time for me to make next year's Sanitary Fair?
And this follow-up, from the August 1993 issue of my newsletter:
This may be old news, but in case you're one of the few reenactors who hasn't heard, that winsome vixen Lauren "Larry" Cook Burgess, cross-dressing reenactor of the 21st Georgia, has won her suit with the National Park Service over the Antietam Battlefield fracas. (My longtime readers will remember I predicted this in a 1991 newsletter. I said there were more female voters than reenactor purists to bring pressure to bear for a "correct" judgement, and I was right.) In the Camp Chase Gazette, Larry declares that this was an authenticity and not a feminist issue. Yeah, right. Let us hope Larry gets assertiveness lessons to more accurately represent a testosterone-crazed male warrior for the event-going public, and that we chauvinists receive the necessary sensitivity training to eradicate any disharmonious or unmutual thoughts we may harbor about her. After all, society needs more mannish women and sensitive men. Let the New Age begin!
To check out Paul Rogers' wonderful cartoon "The Female Musketman" click here. (From a 1993 unit newsletter.)
To read about real, historical cross-dressing, click here!